Natural growth

Interesting passage from Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher:

Nature always, so to speak, knows where and when to stop. There is a measure in all natural things—in their size, speed, or violence. As a result, the system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology, or perhaps I should say: not so with man dominated by technology and specialization. Technology recognizes no self-limiting principle …

We speak of natural growth more often than natural limits to growth. Maybe we should consider the latter more often.

Schumacher’s book was written in 1973 and seems to embody some of the hippie romanticism of its day. That does not make its arguments right or wrong, but it shows what some of the author’s influences were.

The book’s back cover has an endorsement describing Schumacher as “eminently practical, sensible, … versant in the subtleties of large-scale business management …” I haven’t read the whole book, only parts here and there, but the romantic overtones stand out more to me, maybe because they contrast more with the contemporary atmosphere. When the book was published, maybe the pragmatic overtones stood out more.

2 thoughts on “Natural growth

  1. As a result, the system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology, or perhaps I should say: not so with man dominated by technology and specialization. Technology recognizes no self-limiting principle …

    Pure poppycock. Technology is limited by the same thing that systems are limited by: the laws of nature and natural selection. Nature isn’t “self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing” anymore than technology. Both are subject to natural selection: mutations occur, limited by the laws of nature, and the most useful for that time and place get selected.

    Nature, in this kooks definition, is left more or less undefined, then anthropomorphized in order to do the verbal sleight of hand needed to say something so inane.

    We speak of natural growth more often than natural limits to growth.

    What are you talking about? There is an entire political movement that thinks in nothing but terms of “natural limits to growth” – the so-called “enviornmentalists”. These people leave grossly misunderstand the basics of economics, concluding that whatever limits to growth they see in some biological ecosystem directly transfers to all economies. It’s poor reasoning, poor science, and a terrible thing upon which to build politics.

  2. _Design in Nature_ by Adrian Bejan contains some more thoughts along these lines, if not quite as romanticized as Schumacher’s.

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